Hockney-like people paintings
March 24, 2019 through July 14, 2019
Big and in my face the scene could be just behind my eyelids in any sunny room in any sunny warm but dry climate. I can feel myself there peaking through fronds of houseplants obscuring my vision to the outside. And at the same time, I feel myself just waking up, seeing without normal perspective all in place, untrustworthy enough to walk through to get my coffee. What’s that wallpaper about? I remember one of the attendants saying to another and to me, as she points with her head to the other room. The paintings here are without object but the wall paper is repeating some green-plant object all around me. I’m getting my first cup of coffee and this is one of the best parts of the day where thoughts without objects become interesting ideas. I’m thinking about how to write this story about Jonas Wood’s work at the DMA, remembering this wallpaper room and one painting in particular, while at the same time thinking about how poetry and visual art could be political and forceful for change without being reactionary.
I’m reading a poem called The Poetess (after Miro) by Barbara Guest. It’s a poem that names things in Miro’s painting of the same name, just one painting in his Constellations series. The poet(ess), Guest, does many Ekphrastic poems – poems about other art forms, and by definition Ekphrasis should put the artwork in front of you. In this poem, Guest puts names on things in this very abstract painting that, to me, looks like a constellation in the sky with a layer of physical objects floating in front of it, and some maybe just in one’s mind. Guest uses the word ‘scoop’ and now I can’t like the white form in the top right because I can’t get the word ‘scoop’ out of my mind.
I didn’t take a photo of the green plant room painting that I was remembering, but I did photograph this above bathroom scene. Like the green one that was hung nearby in the DMA, the perspective mirrors my waking state of being out of normal space. It throws up curtains and reflections of curtains that don’t allow me to see further into space. This one and the green one reminded me of the images I see while I’m doing my best thinking in that almost awake state.
The more recent work by this artist involves faces. And I don’t really like them. I remember hearing an artist who was trying hard to make a name for himself say, “When you paint people, you’re an art rock star.” I’m not sure I like is brand of stardom.
This is my trouble with painting that includes very definite people and things. The big self portrait heads in these paintings demand attention. I did the same kind of painting when I was in college: Self Portrait Brushing Hair, Self-Portrait Cooking, Self-Portrait Flossing. I’m mis-remembering because I know I have never flossed, but I know these were about the non-beautiful and the ordinary. I cut them out so that they would stand up like paper dolls, and today I find them self-absorbed early selfies. I’m not sure what value they have for anyone else.
I will give a suggestion to Mr. Wood, the artist, as I did to myself, stop painting people. Aside from the people, I enjoy these paintings very much. They are beautiful and descriptive of a world that we could squint, sleep or dream and see. And that makes them more interesting than a photograph. And these remind me of David Hockney, who people thought was just doing realism and was therefore a hack from his beginnings until the year 2000 when we started to think having a somewhat real object in a painting was okay again. I defend Hockney because I think there is the same multitude of layers in his work as in the Miro. So I come to Jonas Wood from a biased perspective, and who doesn’t. Seeing Wood’s work was joyful, like seeing Hockney’s. And I thoroughly enjoyed remembering it this morning.